PHILADELPHIA -- It literally rained all over the "Smarty Party" yesterday, sending into despair a city that had dared to believe the horse that it had embraced would have a stronger finishing kick than its professional sports teams.
Smarty Jones' failed bid for the Triple Crown was like the fictional "Rocky" losing to Apollo Creed and -- worse-- like the Eagles dropping three straight NFC championship games that would have sent them to the Super Bowl.
"I'm heartbroken, heartbroken," said Maggie Kaiser, 24, a native Philadelphian who joined several hundred area residents near the Philadelphia Art Museum to watch the Belmont Stakes on a giant video screen. She and other fans said they came out in a driving rain to witness what they hoped would be an exorcism of the city's recent sporting demons.
What they shared instead was a communal gasp.
They were left forlorn and drenched, wondering how they could have been let down yet again.
"We have the Red Sox curse," Kaiser said. "People forget that Rocky lost. I knew this would happen but I didn't want to say anything because I didn't want to jinx us."
Said another fan, Robert Weaver, 19, of Cherry Hill, N.J.: "Smarty Jones carried everyone on his back. But Philadelphia always seems like it's one win away. And then it rains."
Philadelphia has not won a championship since the NBA's 76ers in 1983. Last month the Philadelphia Flyers were deprived of a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals, losing Game 7 in the Eastern Conference finals to Tampa Bay.
Smarty Jones at least got the citizenry excited about what might have been. The city had taken to the colt, stabled at Philadelphia Park, like Cheez Whiz to a cheese steak.
More than 10,000 fans yesterday had streamed into the racetrack, which was festooned with blue-and-white balloons matching the silks worn by Stewart Elliott, Smarty's jockey.
"Look down at the rail," Philadelphia Park vice president Joseph Wilson said as he surveyed the sloppy track from high up in the grandstand. "A good percentage of those people are cheering on their first race today. Everybody wants to be a part of this. This is Smarty Jones' home."
A typical Belmont Stakes day might normally attract 5,000 to 6,000 fans, Wilson said. Yesterday, he said, the crowd was about twice that size.
"I just hope nobody expects Smarty Jones to be out there running the 11th race," Wilson said with a smile. "There are probably a few."
Grins turned to shock and grimaces as fans watched the Belmont on banks of television monitors as Smarty came in second to Birdstone.
Win or lose, Smarty Jones "gives everybody hope," said Steve DiStefano, 55, who runs a local excavation company. "If nobody won the lottery, then nobody would ever play. Smarty shows that things are attainable."
In Philadelphia, Smarty was seen in the same way the city likes to view itself, as a gritty underdog.
Eleven months ago, Smarty Jones nearly lost an eye after rearing in the starting gate and smacking his head. He recovered to win the Derby and the Preakness. The horse's owners, Roy and Pat Chapman, own auto dealerships, including one a few miles from the track.
The track is located in an area of strip malls and fast-food restaurants in Bensalem Township, a Bucks County suburb a half-hour drive north of the city.
Bucks County has been trying to make certain that the nation realizes the horse is its own. Trainer John Servis visited a Bensalem school last week. A music teacher wrote a song, and students presented Servis with a basket of carrots for Smarty.
Principal Maribel Camps said that the school is attended by many children of immigrant families who think of themselves as underdogs. "He told the kids about working hard and having focus," she said. "Kids really identify with Smarty because he was also an underdog."
The Philadelphia City Council recently passed a resolution honoring Smarty Jones and declaring that if he won the Triple Crown the city should hold a parade down Broad Street.
The celebration, even if a bit subdued, should still be held, said Linda Talbot, a mortgage banker from Malvern. She brought her three children to the area near the museum, saying, "We wanted to be a part of history."
Even though the colt lost, "he still is a good horse. If they have another Smarty Party, we'll be part of it. He had us excited for five weeks."